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Exposed: Massive New Spy Center Built to Track Your Emails and Phone Calls

An investigative reporter reveals that the NSA has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls.

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the things that you’ve raised in the past has to do with the way in which the NSA worked with the telecommunications industry here in the U.S. to eavesdrop on American citizens. But they apparently outsourced the eavesdropping—I mean, the relationship between the NSA and the telecommunications companies, to a third party. Can you say a little bit about who that third party was, who those companies were, and where they were based?

JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah, the—two of the companies that were heavily involved, one of them was Narus. It was a company that has been since bought by Boeing. It was a company formed in Israel by Israelis, and then it ran its company from California. But the NSA—or, I guess it was AT&T that basically hired them. And they—or NSA, maybe the two of them working together. But the bottom line was, Narus provided the equipment that NSA was using in the AT&T facilities. AT&T had this big switch in San Francisco. And it would be using this Narus equipment that would take the information from the wires coming in, the cables coming in, and then route it to NSA, the information that NSA wanted. So it used this company called Narus. And again, it’s a company that had been formed overseas, and you really have to start wondering when you have companies that were formed in foreign countries, and they’re giving such intimate access to U.S. telecommunications, especially very secret U.S. work.

The other company was Verint, and they do a lot of the monitoring for Verizon. And Verint also was formed in Israel by Israelis. And it turns out that the chairman and founder of the company ended up being a fugitive now from the United States, wanted on multiple counts of fraud and theft and so forth. He’s hiding out in Namibia in Africa now. And then two other members of the general counsel and another senior executive from the parent company, Comverse, was also arrested and charged in the theft and pleaded guilty. So you have the problem of—these companies that are actually doing the very sensitive work of monitoring everybody’s communications, you have real questions about them, let alone the people that the NSA is targeting.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Bamford, you have been writing about the NSA for decades. It’s interesting speaking to you in London. We usually speak to you in the United States. You’re sitting right along the Thames, across the river from MI6, from British intelligence agencies, as we speak. But as you unveiled this story inWired Magazine about this small place or obscure, until now, place, Bluffdale, Utah, right near the Four Corners where, you know, Colorado and New Mexico, Utah and Arizona hit on the map there in the Southwest of the United States, I can’t help but think about how you came close to standing trial in 1982 for your book on the NSA, The Puzzle Palace, revealing what was going on with the NSA. Are you at all concerned about what it means to reveal this information?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, as you mentioned, I’ve been doing it for 30 years, so I’ve had concerns about that from time to time. In 1982, as you mentioned, I didn’t come close to trial, because they never—I was never arrested or prosecuted or anything, but I was threatened twice by the Justice Department to return documents that they said were classified. But these were documents that had been released to me by the attorney general under the Carter administration, Attorney General Civiletti. And so, I never returned the documents, because they were unclassified when they were given to me. And what the Reagan administration did was reclassify them as top secret and then order that I give them back. But we found a passage in the executive order on secrecy that said once a document has been declassified, it can’t be reclassified. So then Reagan changed the executive order to say that it could be reclassified, but that couldn’t apply to my case because of the principle of ex post facto. So that was fairly dramatic, where they were threatening me during the writing of The Puzzle Palace.